If you're planning a trip to Italy, make sure to put Padua on the map. This ancient city hides many stories and many fine gems of artwork scattered across the city.
Purporting to be the oldest city in Northern Italy, it was founded in 1183 BCE by the Trojan prince Antenor. The Romans inhabited Padua from 45 CE by which time it was already a flourishing town, and in trademark style, the Romans put their stamp on Padua. However we have little evidence of Roman rule due to damage first from Attila the Hun and his invading armies, then the Goths and finally in 602 CE, Padua was burnt to the ground by Agilulf, the Lombard king. We have no remains, bar the ruins of an amphitheatre.
Padua was rebuilt but before long it was under tyranny. For 20 years, for 1236 - 1256, Ezzelino Da Romano ruled Padua and terrorised the citizens with brutality and cruelty until Pope Alexander IV liberated the city and placed it under Papal rule.
Passed onto Venice, Padu flourished, with its university causing many to flock to the great city and enjoy its beauty and scholarship. With the fall of the Venetian empire in 1797, the Austrian empire controlled Padua. However, the progressives in Northern Italy resented and rejected Austrian rule. In 1848, they rose up and on February 8th, the students revolted. Like the universities of today, it was a hotbed of liberalism and the students fought fiercely. The University and Caffè Pedrocchi were the scene of a fierce battle where the students and people of Padua fought together. In 1866, the third war of independence ended with Padua under the United Kingdom of Italy.
During the first world war, Padua was on the front lines and the armistice was signed just outside of the city when the Austro-Hungarian Empire surrendered to Italy in 1918. WWII once again put Padua on the front lines and this time, Italy fell and Padua was the headquarters for some of the German infrastructure in the country. Resistance fighters were very active in the university during the occupation and helped liberate the city.
Padua is bedecked with renaissance art and steeped in history. Don't miss the Basilica di Sant'Antonio, a holy shrine, covered entirely in renaissance art and created with many architectural delights. The church houses the remains of saint António and statues by Donatello line the altar. Piazza dei Signori is one of the main squares in the historic city, featuring medieval and renaissance architecture and the famous clock tower. The square often hosts markets and is lined with eateries and shops. It's a chance to experience authentic Italian food and culture and talk to some locals.
The Padua Duomo doesn't look like much from the outside but it's the oldest church in the city and features a floor to ceiling mosaic highly detailed fresco painted by Giusto de Menabuoi.
Make sure to see the town hall, the Palazzo della Ragione which is lined with many frescoes depicting historical scenes. It also has Europe's largest unsupported roof.
The orto botanico is a picturesque garden, actually it is one of the oldest gardens in the world, created in 1545 and houses some extremely interesting plants and herbs. It is considered to be the oldest garden in Europe (Pisa's slightly older garden changed location).
We mustn't forget the Prato della Valle, the misnamed oval square that Padua is famed for. At 90,000 square meters, the Prato Della Valle is Europe's largest square (or oval) and is a beautiful place to relax with sprawling gardens and a circular artificial river surrounded by 90 statues of Padua's important historical figures. Four bridges cross the artificial river, leading you to a giant fountain in the centre.
The Bretna canal passes through Padua and you can pay for boat trips to marvel at the sweeping views all the way to Venice. There is an art gallery well worth a trip in the civic museum, which also showcases historical and archaeological exhibits and has sizable collections of coins and sculptures.
Today, Padua is an industrial centre, shrouded by legends and shadowed in history, of tyranny and the fight for freedom, of art and culture and beauty that rebuilds itself from the ashes of war, dictatorship and evil, over and over.
It should be on your itinerary when you next visit Italy. Close to Venice, it makes for a fascinating day trip.
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